Why I Vetoed $114 Million in Public Money For The Transit Village
An Open Letter to Our Residents
Yesterday, for the first time as Mayor of the City of West Palm Beach I exercised my authority to veto a vote by our city commissioners.
The commissioners, serving as members of the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) Board, voted Monday to give away $114 million dollars in future tax revenue to a private developer.
The developer, Michael Masanoff, wants to build a mixture of residential, office and hotel space in an area just north of the downtown TriRail station. His project is commonly known as the Transit Oriented Development (TOD). Monday Mr. Masanoff asked the CRA to give him $114 million dollars in return for building his project.
The deal gives Mr. Masanoff one hundred percent of tax revenue created by the project for twenty-nine years. We would receive no property taxes created by the project until approximately 2045.
The vote to give away the tax dollars was 3-2. Commissioners Paula Ryan, Shanon Materio, and Keith James voted in favor of the payment. Commissioners Cory Neering and Sylvia Moffett voted against it. As the Chairperson of the Board, I do not vote. The Board’s approval came over the strong objections of the city’s Finance Director, City Administrator, and CRA Executive Director. All three testified the project does not warrant such a level of funding.
Even in our city’s darkest economic times, we have never given away one hundred percent of our tax revenues to a developer.
CityPlace, built at a time when no developer would consider construction in or around the acres of blight that afflicted our downtown, only received eighty percent of the tax revenues as an incentive. Surely today, with billions of dollars in new development in the pipeline, we do not need to use $114 million dollars of public money to convince a developer to build in our city.
I have heard the argument that this is essentially “found” money only generated because of the project. Supporters claim there would not be $114 million dollars if it were not for the project. Do we really believe the only way for a project to succeed in today’s economy is to receive a $114 million dollar government handout?
Michael Busha, the Executive Director of the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council, even while testifying in favor of the TOD, admitted that he had never heard of this level of public support being offered for a private sector project.
The precedent set by this level of public subsidy is irresponsible and dangerous. And with all due respect to my colleagues on the dais who claim this deal sets no precedent, they are not fielding the calls to my office from other developers outraged at the preferential treatment.
No incentive package for a developer has ever approached anything close to $114 million dollars. Even the multi-use project planned for our old city hall site, for example, is receiving less than $3 million dollars in public incentives.
My decision to veto the funding is not easy. A transit-oriented development supports many of my administration’s goals. Alternative modes of transportation, walkability and reducing carbon emissions are all priorities close to my heart. I support the project. But I do not believe we should give away $114 million dollars of the public’s money to get it.
I applaud Commissioners Cory Neering and Sylvia Moffett for seeing the error of granting such a deal, and I hope their colleagues on the CRA Board have a change of heart should this issue return for additional consideration.